A game changer for public education?
President Biden’s budget request for the US Department of Education includes an investment of $ 443 million to expand the full-service community schools program. This is more than 10 times the amount invested during fiscal year 2021, and for good reason. In his testimony presenting the budget proposed by the ministry, Education Secretary Cardona explained: “This program recognizes the role of schools as centers of our communities and neighborhoods, and funds efforts to identify and integrate the broad spectrum. community resources needed to support students. and their families, expand learning opportunities for students and parents, support leadership and collaborative practices, and promote family and community engagement that can help ensure student success.
As Secretary Cardona and President Biden know, community schools are also an important tool in ongoing efforts to achieve educational equity, providing both the resources students need to support their learning. and the academic rigor that gives them access to opportunities associated with quality education. Community schools can be a game-changer for public education and this model of education deserves a significant investment.
Although they may seem new to some, community schools have been part of the American education system for over 100 years. Almost since their inception, they have been a central strategy in establishing equity in education. As a post-COVID reset of our public education system approaches, community schools must be one of the models we are developing. They serve not only as hubs for high quality education, but also as places that support communities. They respond to the needs of the local community and help to ensure that the whole child is included in education by providing so-called ‘comprehensive services’, such as health care, private lessons after school, school meals, etc.
According to Anna Maier, research analyst and policy advisor at the Learning Policy Institute, “the community school movement has deep roots dating back to the early 20’s.e efforts of the century to make urban schools “social centers” equipped to respond to the growing social forces of industrialization, urbanization and immigration. The emphasis was really on meeting the needs of the urban poor.
The community schools movement also has roots in the rural south where Jeanes teachers – recruited and trained through the Negro Rural South Education Fund (also known as the Jeanes Fund, established by Anna T. Jeanes, a wealthy woman Philadelphia Quaker) – helped create schools that not only educate black children, but also support them and the local black community. These Jeanes Teachers held meetings with communities to determine their needs and established evening schools (called “moonlight schools”) where adults learned to read and write. They have also created parents ‘associations, land cooperatives, savings clubs, mothers’ clubs and reading circles. (I should note here that the Jeanes Fund was one of four foundations that merged in 1937 to create the Southern Education Foundation.)
Many Jeanes teachers taught in the Rosenwald schools, built by Sears Roebuck founder Julius Rosenwald to educate African American students in the early 1900s. These Rosenwald schools, which numbered over 5,000 in the South, were also built to serve the communities in which these students lived.
In the 1960s and 1970s, community schools emerged in some cases around desegregation efforts as a means of uniting communities and schools for better service to the neighborhood population. Maier notes that they “represented a way to make schools more responsive and accountable to black families.” They were also promoted by African American and Puerto Rican leaders in the 1970s as vehicles for improving the quality of education, creating positive school-community relationships, and establishing local control over schools.
The community schools that operate today are built on four evidence-based ‘pillars’:
1. Integrated student support for school needs, mental and physical health, nutrition and social services which are often facilitated by a full-time coordinator;
2. Extended and enriched learning times and opportunities including after-school and summer learning programs, internships and project-based learning;
3. Active family and community involvement through meaningful partnerships, as well as courses, services and events; and
4. Leadership and collaborative practices, including shared decision-making structures, such as on-site leadership teams and professional learning communities for educators.
Community schools are a key strategy in school improvement efforts and the ongoing effort to achieve equity in education. Union Public Schools in Oklahoma provides an important example of what community schools can look like and achieve. Dr Kirt Hartzler, Superintendent of Union Public Schools and Sandi Calvin, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning for Union Public Schools, shared with me important information on why their school district decided to invest in the community schools model and how that model ends. lack of equity in Tulsa and Broken Arrow, where school sites are located.
An important aspect of these community schools (and all community schools) is that each site offers different support depending on the specific needs of the community it serves. Union Public Schools includes 13 elementary community school sites, each with a link parent and each offering programs, activities and supports to meet the needs of the community. Parent Liaisons coordinate supports for each specific site, including extracurricular activities, community engagement activities, access to social workers and more. Many sites also have access to dispensaries.
One of these sites could well be the crown jewel of the Union’s public schools. Union Ochoa Elementary School, completed in March last year, is a comprehensive, state-of-the-art $ 42 million primary school and health facility, and the first site the district has taken from concept to concept. creation. Located in eastern Tulsa, a low-income area that Dr. Hartzler also calls a “medical desert,” Ochoa Primary School was established through a partnership with Community Health Connection, an agency that provides health care. free to the community. Today, the community school, located on 32 acres, serves 1,200 students from Kindergarten to Grade 5.e elementary school students, their parents and other members of the community, and provides medical, visual, dental and mental health services, in addition to other supports.
Many people may not understand why a school should also function as a health center. The answer is not complicated: a student is in a better position to receive a high quality education and the opportunities that go with it, if he is ready and able to learn. It means having enough to eat, a safe place to live, and a healthy body and mind. In eastern Tulsa, the lack of health care was recognized as a significant barrier to student education and a problem that needed to be addressed.
According to Maier, the community’s contribution to a school site’s programs and services is crucial for community schools. She recommends needs and asset assessments with students and families to help guide decisions about what programs and services to bring to the school site.
Obviously, this is an approach that requires significant resources, but studies show that community schools are a good investment and an effective school improvement strategy. The results in Oklahoma confirm this.
According to Dr. Hartzler, “We now have enough time to have incredible data on education and engagement that speaks to the value of investing in the philosophy of community schools. This year alone many of our majors and salvors have come from our community schools. They started with us in kindergarten and first grade. Of the 28 students who completed our high school program, approximately 20 started at an elementary community school.
He continued, “The reason we decided to invest heavily in community schools was certainly to address the equity gaps, especially students who are underserved and under-represented. Not all will benefit from the educational activities and opportunities available to them, but given the option, we know they can thrive. Our goal is to be 100 percent college graduate and career ready. I think it is a game-changer for public education if it’s done right.
I am okay.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: For more information on community schools, I suggest the following online resources:
- Communities in schools
- Coalition for Community Schools
- Community schools: transforming struggling schools into thriving schools
- Community schools as an effective school improvement strategy: a review of the evidence